The necessities of used undergarments and public health concerns

undergarmentsIn an effort to maintain public health standards and cultural dignity, the Ghana Government has passed legislation that outlaws the importation and sale of secondhand or used undergarments.

Some critics are labelling the ban an economic and human rights attack on the people as the business continues to flourish with patrons developing unmeasured affinity to the commodity, generally.

A Legislative Instrument (LI) 1586, which was passed in 1994, bans the importation, clearance and sale of used undergarments of any type, form or description, whether purchased, donated or procured in any other manner.

Contrary to the law there is a boom in this business, with importers continuing to make commodities such as brassieres, pants, handkerchiefs, boxer shorts and singlets, available to members of the public, resulting from laxity in enforcement regimes.

The commodity is making waves and becoming the first clothing line for majority of Ghanaians irrespective of social status, race, ethnicity or religious attachment, despite its renewed enforcement some 20 months on.

It is believed that its strong empathy is due to durability, affordability, texture, one-of-a-kind posture and endurance compared to new clothes and undergarments on the market.

Students, especially of tertiary institutions, are in sharp contest with the working class for what is referred to as “first selection,” which they patronise religiously.

It costs patrons averagely, between one cedi to 10 Ghana Cedis (1.9 Cedis=1 Dollar) to acquire the revered used underwear of different kinds and forms.

The Ghana Ports Authority, Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ghana Standards Board (GSB) have therefore waged unrelenting crusade to cut-off the supply chain of the commodity due to its health concerns – serving as possible ‘reservoir bouquets’ for transfer of harmful micro-organisms to humans.

“The ban on used undergarments remains non-negotiable; it is essential for the nation’s long term public health safety,” says Mr Kofi Nagetey, microbiologist at the GSB.

He said, “Undergarments absorb body and skin fluids in the form of sweats, vaginal and penal discharges, which contain millions of microbes, yeasts, pathogens, parasites, molds, fungi, bacteria and virus-possible ‘reservoir’ for organ and skin infections, when conditions become favourable.”

“Body fluids which soiled used undergarments are injurious to the skin and hair, including ringworm through fungal infection, genital candidiasis or “white” caused by yeast and blood discharges – usually with high propensity to metamorphose into dormant spores.”

Mr Nagetey said the spores stayed in the fabric and sporulate when the right temperature and moisture was met to undergo vegetative cell multiplication, adding that these “bouquets of microbes” was responsible for the recurrent skin or genital infections experienced mostly by users.

Meanwhile, several bales of used undergarments have been confiscated at the ports of entry through random sampling processes as the state institutions continue to grapple to totally cut-off the supply-chain but the porosity of  frontiers continue to serve as conduits for smuggling activities, leaves much to be desired.

Scientific Justification

Many studies have demonstrated that fabric could easily become contaminated with high levels of microorganisms that survive in them for long periods and sporulate when conditions became suitable.

A microbiology faculty-study of the University of Arizona encapsulates vividly one such investigation, which shows that of the 100-500 grammes of faeces excreted per day by the average American, an estimated 0.1 gramme of residual faecal matter remained on their undergarment.

Again, bacteria was found on toilet seat, lid, and gaps between the top and porcelain rim and the toilet seat suggesting that droplets of faecal matter after flushing the toilet was an infection hazard, especially during acute diarrhoeal illnesses.

The belief that normal laundering produces clean clothes, does not necessarily translate to bacteriologically clean, due to detergents having a wide range of efficacy in reducing bacteria contamination on clothing.

Similarly, washing machines were identified as sources to spread bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus- a common cause of skin infections, from previous loads to future loads of laundry.

In one study, the transfer of viruses to sterile cloth swatches in the laundry was very efficient for all viruses tested [adenovirus (pink eye, diarrhea), hepatitis A virus (hepatitis), and rotavirus (diarrhea)].

A sufficient number of rotavirus and hepatitis-A virus survived in laundry washed only with detergents.

Clothing, bed linens, towels and especially used underwear and other items which are in constant or intermittent contact with the body may form an important route of transmission of microbial infections.

Use of bleach or other targeted disinfectants and sanitizers, such as silver ions, are necessary to reduce contamination of washing machines.

These studies have established a strong relationship between micro-organisms and fabric, a justification that patronage of used clothing and especially undergarments should be of public health concern to all in view of the likelihood of spreading communicable diseases.

Mr Daniel Ankomah, Executive Member of Used Clothing Importers told the Ghana News Agency, “The authorities should focus attention on poor environmental sanitation which poses serious health risks to the populace, because no medical facility has reported ailments associated with wearing of used undergarments.”

He wonders why research and science would not pay attention to chemicals used in spraying farms, recycling of hospital equipment and the use of public latrines than waste resources and time on proscribing used undergarments.

“I believe there are much public health issues in these areas than in undergarments. We usually wash the wares in bleach and other antitoxins and denaturing substances and even dry them in the sun and that should eliminate all harmful germs,” Mr Ankomah states.

The depth of the matter is that majority of the populace would commute naked if used clothing was entirely banned, scores of patrons insist.

The patrons passed the use of second-hand clothes but were divided on the use of used undergarments. About 60 per cent of 100 prospective buyers sampled in the Ho Central Market responded positively to patronising used undergarments, which they claimed were mostly store rejected commodities. The remainder would not use second-hand underwear due to its health and cultural implications.

Contrarily, Dr Edmund N. Delle, plastic surgeon and dermatologist said the claims by the traders were borne out of ignorance drawing a direct relationship between infectious skin diseases and viral, bacterial and fungal disorders drawing a parallel link between germs found in used undergarments and infectious germs.

“Infections caused by the Staphylococcus aureus germ identified in most skin diseases, which affect the skin and manifests as itching in the groin area, athlete’s foot, candidiasis and yeast infections are largely similar to the kind associated to used undergarment.”

He wonders beside the scientific arguments, socio-culturally, how many people would accept and wear a gift of used underwear from a relative, calling for the enforcement of the law to eradicate the menace.

Some critics contend the negative effects of used undergarments are minor compared to unhealthy environmental factors and living situations.

The emergence of the second-hand clothing business sprang up after the mid-19th Century through industrialization, mass production and increasing income, where the poor could only purchase used clothing than new ones, with the trade growing to a global level after the Second World War. In Africa and Ghana for instance, it first appeared as relief items by the early missionaries and for disaster mitigation.

Presently, several used commodities including spare parts, industrial waste, refrigerators, toys, and electronic appliances such as computers have flooded Ghana’s markets with high preferences. By these trends, one would not be surprised when the markets begin to sell used tooth-pick

The public health and environmental implications of these goods outweigh all other arguments being adduced by members of the public. Kudos to the stakeholders and hope they succeed in ridding Ghana’s markets of used clothing.

Author: Maxwell Awumah

Source: GNA

The necessities of used undergarments and public health concerns

In an effort to maintain public health standards and cultural dignity, the Ghana Government has passed legislation that outlaws the importation and sale of secondhand or used undergarments.
Some critics are labelling the ban an economic and human rights attack on the people as the business continues to flourish with patrons developing unmeasured affinity to the commodity, generally.
A Legislative Instrument (LI) 1586, which was passed in 1994, bans the importation, clearance and sale of used undergarments of any type, form or description, whether purchased, donated or procured in any other manner.
Contrary to the law there is a boom in this business, with importers continuing to make commodities such as brassieres, pants, handkerchiefs, boxer shorts and singlets, available to members of the public, resulting from laxity in enforcement regimes.
The commodity is making waves and becoming the first clothing line for majority of Ghanaians irrespective of social status, race, ethnicity or religious attachment, despite its renewed enforcement some 20 months on.
It is believed that its strong empathy is due to durability, affordability, texture, one-of-a-kind posture and endurance compared to new clothes and undergarments on the market.
Students, especially of tertiary institutions, are in sharp contest with the working class for what is referred to as “first selection,” which they patronise religiously.
It costs patrons averagely, between one cedi to 10 Ghana Cedis (1.9 Cedis=1 Dollar) to acquire the revered used underwear of different kinds and forms.
The Ghana Ports Authority, Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ghana Standards Board (GSB) have therefore waged unrelenting crusade to cut-off the supply chain of the commodity due to its health concerns – serving as possible ‘reservoir bouquets’ for transfer of harmful micro-organisms to humans.
“The ban on used undergarments remains non-negotiable; it is essential for the nation’s long term public health safety,” says Mr Kofi Nagetey, microbiologist at the GSB.
He said, “Undergarments absorb body and skin fluids in the form of sweats, vaginal and penal discharges, which contain millions of microbes, yeasts, pathogens, parasites, molds, fungi, bacteria and virus-possible ‘reservoir’ for organ and skin infections, when conditions become favourable.”
“Body fluids which soiled used undergarments are injurious to the skin and hair, including ringworm through fungal infection, genital candidiasis or “white” caused by yeast and blood discharges – usually with high propensity to metamorphose into dormant spores.”
Mr Nagetey said the spores stayed in the fabric and sporulate when the right temperature and moisture was met to undergo vegetative cell multiplication, adding that these “bouquets of microbes” was responsible for the recurrent skin or genital infections experienced mostly by users.
Meanwhile, several bales of used undergarments have been confiscated at the ports of entry through random sampling processes as the state institutions continue to grapple to totally cut-off the supply-chain but the porosity of  frontiers continue to serve as conduits for smuggling activities, leaves much to be desired.
Scientific Justification
Many studies have demonstrated that fabric could easily become contaminated with high levels of microorganisms that survive in them for long periods and sporulate when conditions became suitable.
A microbiology faculty-study of the University of Arizona encapsulates vividly one such investigation, which shows that of the 100-500 grammes of faeces excreted per day by the average American, an estimated 0.1 gramme of residual faecal matter remained on their undergarment.
Again, bacteria was found on toilet seat, lid, and gaps between the top and porcelain rim and the toilet seat suggesting that droplets of faecal matter after flushing the toilet was an infection hazard, especially during acute diarrhoeal illnesses.
The belief that normal laundering produces clean clothes, does not necessarily translate to bacteriologically clean, due to detergents having a wide range of efficacy in reducing bacteria contamination on clothing.
Similarly, washing machines were identified as sources to spread bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus- a common cause of skin infections, from previous loads to future loads of laundry.
In one study, the transfer of viruses to sterile cloth swatches in the laundry was very efficient for all viruses tested [adenovirus (pink eye, diarrhea), hepatitis A virus (hepatitis), and rotavirus (diarrhea)].
A sufficient number of rotavirus and hepatitis-A virus survived in laundry washed only with detergents.
Clothing, bed linens, towels and especially used underwear and other items which are in constant or intermittent contact with the body may form an important route of transmission of microbial infections.
Use of bleach or other targeted disinfectants and sanitizers, such as silver ions, are necessary to reduce contamination of washing machines.
These studies have established a strong relationship between micro-organisms and fabric, a justification that patronage of used clothing and especially undergarments should be of public health concern to all in view of the likelihood of spreading communicable diseases.
Mr Daniel Ankomah, Executive Member of Used Clothing Importers told the Ghana News Agency, “The authorities should focus attention on poor environmental sanitation which poses serious health risks to the populace, because no medical facility has reported ailments associated with wearing of used undergarments.”
He wonders why research and science would not pay attention to chemicals used in spraying farms, recycling of hospital equipment and the use of public latrines than waste resources and time on proscribing used undergarments.
“I believe there are much public health issues in these areas than in undergarments. We usually wash the wares in bleach and other antitoxins and denaturing substances and even dry them in the sun and that should eliminate all harmful germs,” Mr Ankomah states.
The depth of the matter is that majority of the populace would commute naked if used clothing was entirely banned, scores of patrons insist.
The patrons passed the use of second-hand clothes but were divided on the use of used undergarments. About 60 per cent of 100 prospective buyers sampled in the Ho Central Market responded positively to patronising used undergarments, which they claimed were mostly store rejected commodities. The remainder would not use second-hand underwear due to its health and cultural implications.
Contrarily, Dr Edmund N. Delle, plastic surgeon and dermatologist said the claims by the traders were borne out of ignorance drawing a direct relationship between infectious skin diseases and viral, bacterial and fungal disorders drawing a parallel link between germs found in used undergarments and infectious germs.
“Infections caused by the Staphylococcus aureus germ identified in most skin diseases, which affect the skin and manifests as itching in the groin area, athlete’s foot, candidiasis and yeast infections are largely similar to the kind associated to used undergarment.”
He wonders beside the scientific arguments, socio-culturally, how many people would accept and wear a gift of used underwear from a relative, calling for the enforcement of the law to eradicate the menace.
Some critics contend the negative effects of used undergarments are minor compared to unhealthy environmental factors and living situations.
The emergence of the second-hand clothing business sprang up after the mid-19th Century through industrialization, mass production and increasing income, where the poor could only purchase used clothing than new ones, with the trade growing to a global level after the Second World War. In Africa and Ghana for instance, it first appeared as relief items by the early missionaries and for disaster mitigation.
Presently, several used commodities including spare parts, industrial waste, refrigerators, toys, and electronic appliances such as computers have flooded Ghana’s markets with high preferences. By these trends, one would not be surprised when the markets begin to sell used tooth-pick
The public health and environmental implications of these goods outweigh all other arguments being adduced by members of the public. Kudos to the stakeholders and hope they succeed in ridding Ghana’s markets of used clothing.

(A GNA feature by Maxwell Awumah)

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